November 11, 2010
(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her last post, she looked at four reports that examine issues related to immigrants and their children.)
The midterm elections may be behind us, but the question remains: What role should philanthropy play in promoting civic participation, educating voters, and shaping public policy? As we highlight foundation practices and some of the year’s philanthropic trends in conjunction with National Philanthropy Day, we start with a group of reports that consider various aspects of civic engagement and advocacy, which can include community organizing, grassroots leadership development, needs assessments and polling, research into critical issues and potential solutions, and systemic reform.
A growing number of people would argue that advocacy and civic engagement are essential aspects of strategic philanthropy. Foundations for Civic Impact: Advocacy and Civic Engagement Toolkit for Private Foundations, a publication issued by the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest, highlights the rationale for private foundation support of advocacy and civic-engagement efforts: Such support enables foundations to advance their missions, promote systemic social change, strengthen democracy, and protect their interests. With a clear understanding of the types of lobbying and voter-engagement activities they can and cannot fund, combined with effective communications materials, grantmakers can do much to empower citizens and grantees and deepen the latter's impact. (Community and public foundation leaders should refer to CLPI’s Toolkit for Community Foundations).
Strengthening Democracy, Increasing Opportunities: Impacts of Advocacy, Organizing, and Civic Engagement in Los Angeles, a report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, offers a number of advocacy-related success stories. Among other things, the study found that between 2004 and 2008, every dollar invested in the advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement activities of fifteen Los Angeles-area community groups returned $91 in benefits for marginalized communities. Using a range of creative strategies -- from organizing to ballot initiatives to coalition-building -- these groups also made progress on a variety of non-monetary benefits, including improved air quality and working conditions, greater access to higher education, and enhanced services for LGBTQ and limited English proficiency residents. To further increase the impact these groups are having in their communities, the report recommends that foundations provide additional funding for advocacy efforts, engage more directly with grantee boards and donors, do more to support collaboration and foster shared learning, invest in capacity building, and provide more general operating support and multiyear grants.
Five years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the the Gulf Coast, a new culture of civic engagement is taking hold in the region, the Alliance for Justice reports in Power Amidst Renewal: Foundation Support for Sustaining Advocacy After Disasters. Despite ongoing challenges, the region is seeing efforts to organize low-income communities, develop coalitions, and advocate around environmental, educational, criminal justice, housing, and infrastructure issues. Indeed, advocacy work across the region has become broader, more collaborative, and more integrated into nonprofits' missions and day-to-day operations, the report's authors note. Moreover, local foundations such as the Foundation for the Mid South and the Greater New Orleans Foundation (as well as national foundations) are playing a critical role in boosting the capacity and effectiveness of nonprofits in the region to engage with and shape public policy. The report concludes that continued support for post-disaster advocacy should be flexible and for longer grant periods; include advocacy training and technical assistance; involve local partners; be adaptable to the emergence of coalitions and collaboratives; and focus on strengthening community-based foundations.
Even a healthy culture of civic engagement cannot thrive without the participation of younger generations. Just as the 2008 elections showcased the power and potential of youth civic engagement, non-college youth, who comprise almost half the nation's young adults, were largely absent on Election Day. The question of how to engage youth who are disconnected from educational opportunities and jobs is the focus of Youth Civic Engagement Grantmaking: Strategic Review, a 2009 assessment of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund's youth civic engagement program, which supports organizing activities led by low-income youth and youth of color with the aim of establishing a robust infrastructure for sustained engagement and leadership development in the broader progressive movement. Conducted by Mosaica: The Center for Nonprofit Development and Pluralism, the review includes a number of recommendations for improving the program: supporting collective organizational capacity-building strategies, investing in national and regional convenings, building infrastructure in regions and communities with gaps in youth civic engagement, and developing a knowledge base for the field.
How do you see the role of foundations evolving vis-à-vis policy advocacy and civic engagement? What strategies have worked in your issue area or region? And what other emerging strategies show promise? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
And don't forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse reports on philanthropy and voluntarism by sub-category, including capacity building, governance, performance/failure analysis, program evaluation, and volunteerism. Or browse all the reports related to philanthropy and voluntarism — more than 1,300 of them!
-- Kyoko Uchida